Beet Tabbouleh

The Dinner Table – Hard Conversations and Good Food

My Times Union story from June 2020. Read it here, or see below.

Recipes for Beet Tabbouleh with Quinoa and Feta Cheese, Rice and Beans With Crispy Green Onions and Avocado and Strawberry Galette With Cornmeal Cookie Crust go along with this story.

I had been planning to write this late-spring-almost-summer post about the joys of late-spring-almost-summer food: the berries, the asparagus, the early onions. And not just that we have this beautiful food but the sheer joy that comes in finding it after three long months of COVID. But I pause those thoughts, and hold off on stories of the farmer’s market.

It feels more right to acknowledge the fight for racial justice that’s happening in our country. I want to address how we talk to our children and families about racism.

Our dinner table has been a place to share, to be honest and to hear and talk about things. Things aren’t always sweet or pleasant. But it’s our job as a family to talk, and the dinner table is the best place to do it. In our house, conversations have grown and changed as our family grew. In a space that’s safe and open, we’ve talked about everything. We’ve talked about safe sex, gay rights and sexual assault. Some conversations made our pre-teens and teenagers stare at their plates, awkwardly. This shared environment is where we talked about Lucy coming out as a gay teenager, where we talked about Paul’s mom being sick and how we knew that we would lose her. Talk isn’t always so serious, though. We like to tease each other and no one is safe from that. Other nights are blissfully quiet as we contemplate our own thoughts, silverware scraping dishes the only sound.

For the past few weeks, our dinner table discussion has been dominated by racism. There’s so much to say, to share, to learn. Paul and I, as parents, are listening to our children. We come together at the end of the day and talk about what we’ve seen and read that day. We talk about what we can do. What started as a discussion of how to treat all people kindly (when they were little) is now a discussion acknowledging that we are people of privilege, and the way we have experienced the world is absolutely not the same for everyone. I recognize that for all families, talking about this very serious subject is different for each. So I do not come to you today to tell you how to do that or what to say. Only, to talk.

At a time when news is very scary, images are violent and children are unsure of what they can or should do, talking to family helps. For us, the dinner table is the place to do it. We talk, then talk about how to do more than just talk.

Of course, if talk is at the dinner table, there has to be food. In our house right now, food is simple.

Most nights, it goes something like this: Paul grills sausage, I make a salad, we sit, we eat and share ideas. That’s about it. We are on the cusp of the explosion of summertime harvest, where every single meal can—and should—include farm and garden fresh fruits and vegetables from our very own region. Here, there are two recipes for using up some of those locally grown beauties. The third is one that’s good for anytime of year.

Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern salad, typically made with bulgur wheat and tomatoes and while tabbouleh is so good and you don’t need to mess around with it, I like to change things up and so I did. This version is made with beets instead of tomatoes and quinoa in place of bulgur. I know that beets are often thought of as a fall and winter vegetable, but I love the early beets, which are smaller and sweeter. For those who dislike this vegetable and think they taste like dirt (“earthy,” we like to say), these early, small, tender beets are less earthy and worth a try. If you can find the candy-striped beets at the farmer’s market, buy those, if only for their absolute beauty. Really, though, any beet will do. Tabbouleh’s best attribute is that it’s nearly half herbs. How much more summer-y can you get?

Rice and beans. Rice and beans, rice and beans. I’ve eaten food in all kinds of places, with all kinds of people and I think that my most favorite of all those foods will always be rice and beans and somehow, the people I ate those plates of rice and beans are always my most favorite kind of people. Both are soulful and down to earth, no matter how dressed up. This particular recipe for rice and beans has deep onion flavor, from both sauteed onions and sizzled green onions on top. It’s all good that way, but really, rice and bean lovers know that plain old white rice with any kind of beans, stirred together and smothered with hot sauce is pretty great, too. This is a good recipe to keep for when you’re eating from the pantry. Or need a hearty side dish. It’s also good for lunchboxes, picnics and late-night snacks.

The strawberry galette recipe is a sacred one around here, and as soon as I see a pint of strawberries — the real strawberries, I mean: small and red throughout and completely sweet — I pull out the flour and butter and bake up a galette. The crust is made from flour and cornmeal and has a cookie quality to it. It’s a bit crumbly and a little sweet. A galette isn’t beautiful or even really pretty but boy, does it taste like summer.

The talk continues at our house. There is more, always, to say and there is so much more to do. Starting a conversation with your family is hard but so important. Creating a safe place to share ideas is a good way to start, putting food down for everyone helps. Food is love, after all.

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